Botha, in 'Going It Alone,' Cheers Bullies of the Right

Charlene Smith is a South African writer based in Johannesburg.

"The international community will not dictate to us. We have nowhere else to go," said President Pieter W. Botha Thursday during his announcement of a state of national emergency. His words sounded remarkably like those of one of his most vociferous opponents--Eugene Terreblanche, the ultra-right-wing leader of the Afrikaner Resistance Movement known in Afrikaans as Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB).

In a nationwide police sweep that began at dawn Thursday, more than 1,000 mainly black anti-government activists were detained. While some whites also were detained, none were from the neo-Nazi AWB, which exists to wage what its leader calls a "war of liberation against the reformist Botha."

But now the government, its back to the wall because of deepening civil war and increasing international hostility, in desperation has shed its reformist facade in favor of the militaristic, bullying tactics that Terreblanche has called for all along. Botha's extremist reaction is typical of the AWB, and just as surely doomed to failure.

The small but fanatical movement recently has specialized in the violent disruption of government rallies. Thus the same racist intolerance that provided the basis for decades of Afrikaner unity today is the wedge that is driving it apart. The AWB's break-up of Transvaal National Party meetings has spotlighted increasing divisions among whites as the country descends into left- and right-wing political subversion and chaos. The only "public" rally recently, law-and-order minister Louis Le Grange's speech to a carefully screened audience of nationalists, had armored personnel carriers outside and security officers checking everyone who entered.

The ultra-right-wing backlash, in part fueled by reforms, has been heightened by Botha's continued inability to boost a critically ailing economy and deal with extensive black politicalization and unrest--particularly in conservative rural areas.

Many white farmers, who have treated their black laborers little better than slaves, have been stunned when farm workers in some northern Transvaal areas have gone on strike for better pay and living conditions or have extorted "protection money" in return for supposedly preventing the land from being mined by black liberation groups. It is against this background that heavily armed rural and working-class whites are championing the racist and militaristic AWB.

With political crises enveloping them, Afrikaners have not withdrawn into the laager (circling the wagons) as predicted but are running in confusion outside it.

Botha's contention on Thursday that "we are not a nation of weaklings, if we are forced to go it alone so be it," will be cheered by the ultra right. But it is unlikely to do much for the government aim of Afrikaner unity. The goal of the extreme right wing is the same as that of the African National Congress, which is fighting the black liberation struggle--the total overthrow of the existing order.

For years the nationalist government got political mileage abroad by crying wolf about a right-wing threat, but now the rhetoric has come home to roost and its members don't know what to do about it. Carloads of young whites have shot and burned blacks in right-wing strongholds. The white left fears the AWB and does not take rumors of its assassination lists lightly.

Terreblanche was 24 in 1973 when he and six friends gathered in a garage to discuss their fears of "white Afrikaner capitulation to blacks." Today he spends little time on his farm in the conservative mining area of Venterspost, but travels the country speaking to thousands of mainly working-class Afrikaners who, with the escalation in unrest and the enormous downturn in the economy, are seeing their life styles eroded and permanently threatened. Men, with guns in holsters, attend these meetings with their wives and children. They listen raptly, saluting Terreblanche with a raised flat hand reminiscent of another era in another land.

Always dressed in a three-piece suit and with a neatly clipped beard, Terreblanche speaks in a thunderous boom without pause for two hours. The AWB's swastika-type flag usually drapes the podium, and he frequently is flanked by armed, khaki-clad, jack-booted storm troopers. Tapes of his speeches are sold for $7 each, and in this way the AWB message has spread.

Terreblanche panders to Afrikaners' isolationist tendencies in the macho talk that they favor, essentially always repeating the same message: "The people of South Africa will be the purest of white people . . . . I've come to get people to fight . . . . We have no other land to flee to . . . . The Americans can't put up a spaceship without South African plutonium and uranium . . . . We can't allow Nelson Mandela and Botha to give South Africa away."

Terreblanche says that his group is an umbrella body to unite the extreme right wing. In 1980 he registered the AWB as a political party, Die Witvolkparty (White People's Party). The party has never placed a candidate in an election, but there is little doubt that Terreblanche will use a right-wing alliance to boost his considerable political ambitions.

In 1983 Terreblanche and some followers were charged with terrorism. Among the charges were the illegal possession of arms and explosives and plotting to sabotage multiracial hotels, assassinate certain black leaders and infiltrate a black homeland with syphilis germs. The men were given suspended sentences--unusual in a country where blacks can get life for less serious activities.

Three years ago the AWB was regarded as little more than a sinister joke; now it is gaining momentum as a real and frightening force. But what is even more disturbing is that the ruling bloc, by putting aside Botha's supposed "reformism" and imposing emergency regulations, is adopting the same intransigent fighting pose.

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